The significant shift that technology gave games has little to do with the graphics or the input technology, nor is it necessarily part of the maturation of the form – it is something far more fundamental in how we experience play and storytelling, and that is that we far more easily connect and engage with experiences that are conversational and continuous.
At a writer goes on a journey, the official news site of the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I wrote a piece on the What, Why, and How of being a games writer.
[A games writer] might also find themselves doing pure design work, which might output a written document, but whose underlying structure is built on something quite different. Rather than trading in the intangible connective tissue of stories and characters, you’re dealing with the underlying components of games – rules, systems, and goals. You might find yourself wrapping these in a fiction, but the work here is on focusing what the player does, not on who they are or where they are doing it. Some of the skills are transferable, and some aren’t, so it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the medium before you go into it.
Every piece of writing – in fact every act of creation – is an exploration, a mapping of elusive contours of thought, a process of divination and excavation. At the other end, every experience of a piece of writing – or every creative work – is the same: a scrabble through uncharted caves, a handheld guide through an unknown city, a slow resonant unveiling of how things are and how they came to be.
But mention the word play in association with either of these processes and the arguments come at you hard and fast. We are serious writers and thinkers, they say, explorers of uncharted territory. We stalk the wilderness and return with wisdom, heroes of our own creative journey. We are adults struggling against the dark, and we have no time for such trivial things.
Perhaps play is the wrong word then? Or perhaps it’s something that needs reclaiming through reflection and re-examination of how creativity works.